Note: The following remarks were given at the Board of Education Swearing-In Ceremony on Jan. 8, 2013
Ladies and gentlemen, Board members, honored guests — welcome to Canyons School District. I am delighted to be with you tonight and congratulate all of the new board members and their families. I look forward to working with you and trust that you will find the work of public education as rewarding as I do.
I would like to begin my remarks tonight by sharing an anecdote told by Major General John Stanford, who died of leukemia in 1998 after three years as the Superintendent of the Seattle Public Schools. Although I never met him, Stanford is one of my heroes, and I read his advice about leadership often. In his book "Victory in our School: We Can Give Our Children Excellent Public Education," Stanford relates the following story:
"Once, two men shared a hospital room. The man in the bed by the door was gravely ill; doctors questioned his hold on life. But the man in the window bed was stronger and often passed the time by describing the scene outside. 'There's a park,' he would say, 'I see children playing.' Or, 'Look, the ice cream truck is coming!' Or, 'Ah, two young lovers walking hand in hand.' As the sicker man in the bed by the door grew stronger, he would nod and smile; the vicarious contact with the outside world cheered him.
"After a week the man in the window bed went home and the sicker man was moved to the bed by the window. The following morning, as soon as the nurse had opened the curtains, he raised himself and looked out. There, to his surprise, was a parking lot—barren concrete with a few randomly parked cars. No children. No lovers. No park. At first he was furious; how could his friend have misled him? But as the hours ticked by he realized what a gift his friend had given him. The images the man had painted had reminded him of all that was good about life; they had renewed his sense of hope and possibility. More than the medical care he was receiving, those images had strengthened him.
Superintendent Stanford went on to state:
"Today I am the man looking out the window for the children of Seattle. I must paint a similar vision for our citizens and school employees. They, too, must see the possibilities in the schools—and believe that the possibilities can be realized. How else will they inspire our children every single day? For the sake of the children, for the sake of our city, we must all share a common vision of what our schools can be; safe places filled with love where all students learn."i
As we enter this new phase of Canyons School District, now in our fourth academic year, I agree with Superintendent Stanford's perspective. Today we are the ones looking out the window for the children who attend our 45 schools, and we continue to move ahead with our shared vision that each and every one of our students must graduate from high school ready for college, career, and citizenship. Period.
We have learned that realizing this vision is not easy. Success requires major changes in how we conduct business in our schools and District offices. Yet we press on, as advised by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who noted: "If you think a change is right, go with it. The opposition is inevitable, but rarely is it unbeatable. There will be many silent supporters among the many vocal detractors. And leadership is all about the decisions that change. If you can't handle that, don't become a leader."ii
We know we have broad support for our vision of true equal educational and economic opportunity for all children. As proof, we can point to several major accomplishments that are advancing this vision, all of which were made possible by the Board of Education, teachers, and community members working together.
• Voters supported the Board's $250 million bond initiative, allowing us to improve the safety and learning environments for thousands of students across the District.
• This year we opened a brand new Midvale Elementary School, ensuring that several hundred students from one of our most impoverished areas, who had been attending one of our most substandard facilities, go to school in a building that ensures opportunity and dignity.
• We have implemented a curriculum based measurement system in all of our elementary schools, to provide teachers and principals with real time feedback in their efforts to help all students reach proficiency levels in reading and math by the end of the third grade, and beyond.
• We have implemented the EXPLORE, PLAN, and ACT exams to all 8th, 10th, and 11th graders in the District to provide students, parents, teachers, and counselors with research-based data on students' college readiness.
• We were named by the College Board to the 2012 Advanced Placement Honor Roll, one of only 367 public school districts nationally, and one of only three in Utah, to be so designated.
• We have implemented new math and English/Language Arts curricula in elementary and secondary schools that are aligned with new Common Core State Standards and that will better prepare students for college and career.
• We adopted and implemented new Advanced and Honors diplomas, and we remain the first and only school district in the state to award college- and career-ready diplomas.
• Our elementary dual immersion language programs in Chinese, French, and Spanish have earned a national reputation for excellence, and international recognition from the governments of France and Spain.
• We have created, in collaboration with the Utah State Office of Education, new Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) and Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses for grades 6-8 that will be the first of their kind in the state.
• We have cultivated outstanding relationships with business and community leaders, resulting in the contribution of $409,000 in private funds over the past three years to the Canyons School District Education Foundation, including $155,000 in just the past six months from major industry partners that has been earmarked toward the $200,000 needed to fully implement the new middle school STEAM curriculum in the 2013-2014 school year.
Obviously we still have many challenges, though none are insurmountable, that lie ahead:
• We still have many old facilities to replace and renovate in order to improve the learning environment for students and working conditions for our employees.
• Funding for teacher compensation, class size reduction, technology, professional development for teachers, and special programs remains limited given state budgets and impacts of the recession.
• Notwithstanding the progress we have made, we still have far too few high school students, especially students of color and of low socioeconomic status, taking A.P and other rigorous college prep courses, too few meeting the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, and too few earning Advanced and Honors diplomas.
• Grade reconfiguration, which was approved unanimously by the Board three years ago, and which will be fully implemented in the fall of 2013, together with new school boundaries, presents major changes for staff, students, and parents as 6th graders move up to middle school and 9th graders move up to high school.
• While I believe our schools are safe, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that we are doing everything reasonable, prudent, and within our means to prevent such a tragedy, as well as bullying, harassment, and other forms of violence, from occurring on our watch.
Yet I am confident that, working together, we can and will meet these challenges, as well as others that may be unforeseen. Working in public education is, in my opinion, the most noble work one can do, and I am grateful every day that I have the privilege of being a part of the public schools in this community.
Indeed, I would be remiss if I did not specifically thank those who work day in and day out to ensure our collective success. I am thankful for our dedicated board members, who give of their time and talents to serve this community. I am thankful for our teachers, principals, and support staff, who work tirelessly every day with genuine love for their students. I am thankful for the unparalleled involvement and support we receive from parents across the District, who volunteer thousands of hours every year to help children succeed. I am thankful to have the backing of many business leaders and organizations, which provide financial and moral support as we work to confront the status quo. Finally, and most importantly, I am deeply grateful for my wife Rori, without whose love and support I would not survive a single day in this job. She sacrifices a great deal so that I can be in schools and attend community events, and I am so very thankful for her constant encouragement.
In short, while the past four years have been very difficult at times, they have also been very rewarding, and instilled in me a sense of optimism and hope about the future of Canyons School District. I believe wonderful things lie ahead as we collaborate together and do what is best for students.
In short, I am convinced that outstanding education for every child is critical to each child's personal development, but also to our local and state prosperity. Horace Mann once said:
"For the creation of wealth...intelligence is the grand condition. ... In former times ... not one man in a million has ever had such a development of mind as made it possible for him to become a contributor to art or science. Let this development precede, and contributions, numberless, and of inestimable value, will be sure to follow. That political economy, therefore, which busies itself about capital and labor, supply and demand, interest and rents, favorable and unfavorable balances of trade, but leaves out of account the element of widespread mental development, is naught but stupendous folly."iii
Thank you all for joining me in this endeavor, of building the mental, as well as the social and character, development, of the children in our care.
__________________________iMajor General John Stanford, Victory in Our Schools. (Bantam Books, 1999), pp. 11-12.iiTony Blair, A Journey: My Political Life (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010), p. 477.iiiJoy Elmer Morgan, Horace Mann: His Ideas and Ideals (National Home Library Foundation, 1936), p. 140.